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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 333:205-212 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps333205

Association of the copepod Macrosetella gracilis with the cyanobacterium Trichodesmium spp. in the North Pacific Gyre

Renate Eberl1,2,*, Edward J. Carpenter1

1Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, San Francisco State University, 3152 Paradise Drive, California 94920-1205, USA
2University of California Davis, Department of Ecology and Evolution, One Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616-8507, USA

ABSTRACT: The harpacticoid copepod Macrosetella gracilis is found in pelagic habitats in tropical and subtropical oceans associated with colonies of the N2 fixing cyanobacterium Trichodesmium spp. In the central North Pacific near Hawaii, M. gracilis was abundant (1.8 ± 1.4 [SD] M. gracilis adults m–3 and 4.7 ± 3.9 M. gracilis copepodites m–3) and constituted an average of 10.8% of the total copepod population. However, we observed no statistically discernable correlation between M. gracilis and Trichodesmium spp. abundances, suggesting that availability of Trichodesmium spp. did not limit the abundance of M. gracilis during our study. In previous laboratory studies M. gracilis had been shown to have the ability to ingest Trichodesmium spp. trichomes and appeared immune to cyanobacterial toxins harmful to other species of copepods. Natural abundance of stable isotopes (δ15N, δ13C) in copepod tissue from field samples suggested that the diet of M. gracilis was not predominately composed of Trichodesmium spp. as proposed by previous research. Natural abundance of δ15N was similar for M. gracilis (3.06 ± 2.29), Miracia efferata (1.83 ± 0.88), and calanoid copepods (2.7 ± 1.95). No Trichodesmium spp. were observed in M. gracilis gut contents. Trichodesmium spp. was not a predominant food in the diet of this copepod, but colonies of the toxic cyanobacterium could provide shelter from predation and be used as a floating substrate for adult and juveniles of M. gracilis.

KEY WORDS: Macrosetella gracilis · Trichodesmium · Copepod feeding · Stable isotopes · Floating substrate · Zooplankton · Oligotrophic oceans · Life history

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